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What Will It Take to Be a Superpower in 2025?

December 19, 2014


The solutions organized by the superpower become the dominant global system because they are far more effective, efficient, flexible and sustainable than the solutions organized by other nations and trading blocs.

There’s a popular geopolitical parlor game called Who will be the next superpower?

While the game excels at triggering a mind-fogging tsunami of nationalistic emotions, it doesn’t shed much light on the really consequential question: What is power?

These are important questions to ponder as, around the world, unsustainable policies from the 20th century are beginning to fail in earnest. What will the future geopolitical landscape look like in their aftermath?

Put another way: what will it take to be a superpower in 2025?

What Is Power?

In geopolitics, the conventional view is that Power is the capacity to coerce others to serve your interests at the detriment of their own.

This is a scale-invariant definition, meaning that it applies equally to the school bully, the drug lord, the dictator, or the Emperor. Each has the power to coerce others to do things that are counter to their own interests to serve the interests of the powerful.

While there is certainly truth in this definition, at the geopolitical scale it leaves much to be desired. General and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was well-positioned to understand the limits of coercive power, limits which he described in this truculent phrase: "Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything."

The greater power than coercion, it turns out, is the power to align others’ interests with one’s own, so they willingly submit to your authority as a means of furthering their own interests. To do this effectively and sustainably, power must organize the transnational flow of capital and labor in ways that offer benefits to all participants.

The great superpower of the ancient world, the Roman Empire, showcased this form of inclusive organizational power: though the Legions were available to suppress outright rebellions, Rome’s long Golden Era was characterized not by perpetual wars of rebellion but by widespread peace and prosperity for even the far-flung members of the Empire.

This is not to gloss over the institutional slavery and oppression that enforced the Ancient Rome’s grip, but the point is that free participants accepted the dominance of Rome because it protected their opportunities to better themselves in relative safety, providing they did not undermine the Empire’s interests.

Even so-called Barbarians benefited from trade with Rome. Many tribes intermarried with peoples under Rome’s sway, and by the end of the Empire, the line between Barbarian and those living under Roman rules blurred.

Even as political and military control eroded and was lost, the organizational system created by Rome’s power—of roadways, waterworks, money, trade and commerce—continued to hold former dominions together. It was only when that complex system fell to pieces (for many reasons, a good deal of them resource-related) that the Empire expired.

There is a third form of power that is often overlooked, perhaps because it’s so obvious in functioning systems we don’t even notice it: the power to solve problems. The power to solve problems with the resources at hand is perhaps the greatest power, far greater than coercive power and ultimately more powerful than organizational power, which erodes if power cannot solve problems with the available resources.

How does power solve problems?  Though the answer is complex, we can discern a few generalities:

  1. Power must accumulate capital and invest it productively
  2. Power must invest the capital where it has long-term leverage (i.e. in systems that conserve resources, labor and capital over the lifespan of the system)
  3. Power must enable the free flow of intellectual capital/knowledge and encourage experimentation as a means of solving new or emerging problems

The ancient world empires tended to accumulate capital in two ways: by taxing their own citizens, and by conquering the wealth of other regimes. Modern-day great powers tend to accumulate capital by taxing their own citizens and fashioning economic arrangements for profitable commerce and credit that attract capital, talent and profits that can be taxed.

In other words: power solves problems by attracting capital and talent, and then enabling their productive use in a system that is effectively organized to solve problems.

Capital and talent are two forms of wealth that don’t respond well to coercion. Capital and talent both flee dictatorial control; and in today's world, both are increasingly mobile. So the source of modern power’s wealth is not coercion so much as being more attractive to those with capital and talent than the alternatives. 

This has two facets:

  • enabling people to serve their own interests within the dominant power structure, and
  • maintaining an inclusive system that is organized to optimize solutions

If the system is too chaotic or rapacious to enable solutions to be implemented, capital and talent are both fruitlessly squandered.

If capital must be spent suppressing rebellion, there is less available for productive investments.  The empire soon collapses under its own inefficiency. This is why empires based on coercion burn out quickly. And why empires without inclusive, well-organized systems also fail.

The Roman Example

The Roman Empire offers some useful examples of problem-solving via productive investment. Rome’s expansion of durable roadways and fresh water supplies were critical to the growth of trade and the expansion of healthy urban centers that fostered innovation, the sharing of knowledge, and the accumulation of capital.

Rome’s suppression of piracy enabled the free flow of grain from North Africa to Europe, and the extension of trade routes to faraway Britain. 

Technologies such as engineered concrete aqueducts and metalworking spread throughout the Empire due to the sharing of technologies and expertise.

Roman coinage enabled low-risk commerce all throughout its boundaries.

While the occasional drama of slave revolts and rebellions against Imperial might are the natural subjects of movie dramas, the day-to-day reality was spectacularly mundane: without the advantages of fossil fuels, Rome managed to extend relative peace and prosperity over much of the human world.

The same can be said of the Tang Empire in China, which provides additional validation that security, commerce, a unified money system and widespread prosperity go hand in hand.

What System Is Best Able to Solve Problems?

Virtually every nation and trading bloc faces the same set of entrenched problems: demographics, debt, energy and currency.  The problems created by aging populations afflict the entire developed world, and fast-growing developing nations face the opposite problem: not enough work for their burgeoning cohort of youth.

Debt has long been the solution to all problems: just borrow more money (or borrow it into existence) and throw it at the problem of the day. But since debt accumulates interest, and interest siphons off productive capital, this “solution” has run into rapidly diminishing returns.

The foundation of the modern global economy is abundant, cheap energy. And the traditional source of that abundant cheap energy—fossil fuels—is no longer cheap (despite the recent drop in price, the production cost for oil remains near all-time highs), or it comes with real-world limits on its expansion.  Declining supply and rising costs crimp growth of consumption and the expansion of capital, the twin foundations of the status quo arrangement.

Currency—paper money—is the financial basis of that arrangement.  The ease and appeal of printing money (or credit) becomes increasingly compelling as diminishing returns set in, but the rampant expansion of money and credit undermine the system just as fatally as the decline in cheap, abundant fuels.

The temptation is to create money out of thin air to solve the other problems: just create money (or borrow it into existence) to pay for old-age social security, youth unemployment, higher energy costs, and every other problem facing the status quo.

But this “solution” generates its own problem.  Even more damaging, issuing money and credit doesn’t actually solve any of the other structural problems; it simply papers them over, allowing them to fester behind the façade of freshly printed money and debt.

Power and Superpower

We can now formulate a preliminary answer to the parlor game question Who will be the next superpower?

Any nation or trading bloc that sustainably solves its pressing structural problems will qualify as a Great Power, simply by avoiding the consequences of not solving these problems, i.e. collapse. Muddling through is not a sustainable solution.

There is no law or rule that mandates the existence of superpowers.  The world can go on quite well without a dominant global power.  That said, what qualifies a nation or trading bloc to be labeled a superpower?

Within the context outlined above, the answer is: the solutions organized by the superpower become the dominant global system because they are far more effective, efficient, resilient, flexible and sustainable than the solutions organized by other nations and trading blocs.

In Part 2: Who Will Dominate This Century?, we look at the key requirements for sustainable power in this new century and which countries are best-positioned to exert their influence going forward.

Click here to access Part 2 of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access)

This essay was first published on peakprosperity.com, where I am a contributing writer.








Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy (Kindle, $9.95)(print, $17.76)
go to Kindle edition
Are you like me?
Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.

And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test-drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $17.76

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube)


HUGE GIANT BIG FAT DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site should be construed as investment advice or guidance. It is not intended as investment advice or guidance, nor is it offered as such.... (read more)

WHY EMAIL TO THIS SITE IS READ BUT MAY NOT BE ACKNOWLEDGED: Regrettably, I am so sorely pressed for time and energy that I am unable to respond to the vast majority of emails. Please know I read all emails, but I can only devote a very limited number of hours to this blog and all correspondence....



This Month's entries:

What Will It Take to Be a Superpower in 2025?
December 19, 2014

What Is the Gold-Oil Ratio Telling Us?
December 18, 2014

Here's What's Wrong with Corporate America--and the U.S. Economy
December 17, 2014

The Great Generic Drug Rip-Off
December 16, 2014

What Choice Do We Have?
December 15, 2014

The Financialized-Oil Dominoes Are Toppling
December 12, 2014

Central Banks' 2% Plan to Impoverish You
December 11, 2014

Central Banks Have Failed Because They Can't Push Wages Higher
December 10, 2014

Central Banks Create Deflation, Not Inflation
December 9, 2014

We've Habituated to a Rigged, Fraudulent Market
December 8, 2014

The Only Two Charts You Need to Understand the S&P 500
December 5, 2014

The Oil-Drenched Black Swan, Part 4: The Head-Fake Disruption Ahead
December 4, 2014

The Oil-Drenched Black Swan, Part 3: Multiple Risks, Multiple Unknowns
December 3, 2014

The Oil-Drenched Black Swan, Part 2: The Financialization of Oil
December 2, 2014

The Oil-Drenched Black Swan, Part 1
December 1, 2014


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Extra-Special Bonus Aphorisms:


"There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."
(Douglas MacArthur)

"We are what we repeatedly do." (Aristotle)

"Do the thing and you shall have the power." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." (E.F. Schumacher, via Tom R.)

"He who will not risk cannot win." (John Paul Jones)

"When we drink coffee, ideas march in like the army." (Honore de Balzac)

"Progress is not possible without deviation." (Frank Zappa, via Richard Metzger)

"Victory favors those who take pains." (amat victoria curam)

"The man who has a garden and a library has everything." (Cicero, via Lee Bentley)

"A healthy homecooked family meal and a home garden are revolutionary acts." CHS

"Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

"The way of the Tao is reversal" Or "Reversal is the movement of Tao." (Lao Tzu)

"Chance favours the prepared mind." (Louis Pasteur)

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasures." (Rumi)

"The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for." Joseph Addison (via Susan J.)

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, via Wayne H.)

"Passive absorption of marketing-dominated media is the primary activity on the plantation of the mind, and that of course is the goal of the colonial overlords: distraction, passivity, confusion, divide and conquer, and the old stand-by, financial desperation." (CHS)

"While we can always buy back into a trending market, we cannot go back in time and recover a profit lost to greed or complacency." (CHS)

"Whatever remains unconscious emerges later as fate." (Carl Jung)

"Any sufficiently advanced cartel's actions are indistinguishable from magic." (CHS)

"We have no leadership, just cronies and puppets." (CHS)

"The secret sauce in an investment isn't the upside, it's the viability between people who choose to share your dream in business or in life." (Eric P.)

"The ultimate goals of making money are balance and independence from money." (An Chu)

"Central planning perfects the power of threats to bypass the system's defenses." (CHS)

"Independence requires independence of thought, habit and action." (CHS)

"Certainty has another advantage: it's more persuasive than hedged hesitancy." (CHS)

"That which is cheap and abundant will be squandered until it is no longer cheap or abundant." (CHS) (3/5/2014)

"The prime directive of any bureaucracy is to eliminate all accountability." (CHS)

"In a world besotted with the artifice of consumerism, what matters is not what can be commodified and bought but what can't be commodified and bought." (CHS)

"The Mobile Creative credo: trust the network, not the corporation or the state." (CHS)

"The Smith Market Uncertainty Principle: The more precisely we can determine the likelihood of a trend change, the less precisely we can determine the timing of the trend change--and vice versa." (June 20, 2014)

"Smith's Law of Conservation of Risk: Every sustained action has more than one consequence. Some consequences will appear positive for a time before revealing their destructive nature. Some consequences will be intended, some will not. Some will be foreseeable, some will not. Some will be controllable, some will not. Those that are unforeseen and uncontrollable will trigger waves of other unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences." (July 8, 2014)(thanks to Lew G. for retitling the idea.)

"The truth at any cost lowers all other costs." (Robert David Steele)

"Liberation isn't profitable, and more's the pity." (CHS, 11/29/2014)

"There is no difference between the path of repeated failure and the path that eventual leads to uncommon success." (CHS, 12/5/2014)

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    nsfwcorp.com

    Infographic of the Status Quo (Rebooting Capitalism)

    Verso Books

    Squeezing the hour glass


    Authors/Artists

    Dangerous Minds Richard Metzger

    A Change in the Weather Ray W.

    James Howard Kunstler

    John Francis Kinsella

    The Rhythm of War

    Operation SERF (Strategic Action Thriller) Chris Sullins

    Gigi-Hawaii

    Deep Into ArtLife West

    Dan Tyler

    Jill Kanter (copyediting)

    Eaton Rapids Joe


    Permaculture
    (via Jason C.)

    Gaia's Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture

    Perennial Vegetables: A Gardener's Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles

    Moringa: Nature's Medicine Cabinet

    Edible Forest Gardens (2 volume set)

    Permaculture: A Designers' Manual

    Permaculture Activist (website)

    Zaytuna Farm Tour (Geoff Lawton) (video)

    Urban Permaculture with Michele Margolis (video)

    Greening the Desert (Geoff Lawton) (video)


    Farming/Gardening / Self-Sufficiency

    Everlasting Seeds (heirloom, USDA organic)


    Architecture

    Architext
    Red-Tile Style (website)
    Red-Tile Style (book)
    Storybook Style: America's Whimsical Homes


    Health

    Ayurvedic nutrition
    New book:
    Ayurvedic Nutrition

    European Institute of Vedic Studies

    New Medicine Foundation

    healthy skeptic.org


    Pro-Bicycle/Car-Free

    Waterside Workshops

    Halcyon Bike Shop

    electricbikeworks.com

    streetsblog.org

    carfreeusa

    bikeportland.org

    bikesnobnyc

    carfreewithkids

    howwedrive


    Smart Growth/Alt. Transpo

    t4america.org

    discoveringurbanism

    theoverheadwire

    Regional Communities


    The Great Transformation

    Club Orlov

    Mat Stein: When Technology Fails

    Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG)

    The Survivalist Blog

    Little Homestead in the City


    Dumpster-Diving/Freegan

    Urban Dumpster Diver


    Hawaii

    ilind.net (Ka'a'awa)

    Richard Ha/Hamakua Springs

    Hilo Living


    Leaving America

    Yield Qwest: Overseas Business Emigration


    Buy gold online:

    Buy gold online at low prices: BullionVault

    Need to send a gift?
    Amazon.com gift certificates

    give a Kindle ebook

    Note: at no cost to you, I earn a small commission on purchases made via BullionVault and Amazon.com.


    Original Music

    2 new songs:


    Obsession (Song 29)
    (rock/grunge; CHS & CC, lead guitars)

    The Bridge
    (jazz; CC, bass & guitars)



    My "definition" of success:

    1. Did I make myself useful today?
    2. Did I take care of myself today and avoid burdening anyone with my cares and troubles?
    3. Were I to meet the living Jesus or Buddha at day's end, would I feel ashamed of my conduct during the day, or could I meet his gaze with the inner knowledge that I emulated his teachings to the very best of my ability?


    live free
    live well
    live with integrity
    live with kindness
    be average but with self-discipline


    7 things to aspire to:

    austerity
    restraint
    humility
    responsibility
    patience
    sacrifice
    thrift

     

       
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